DUE to deadlines, I had to write this before the screening of the first part of A Very English Scandal, the BBC’s new series on the demise of Jeremy Thorpe following his trial for conspiracy to murder. One of the most charismatic politicians of the 1970s –Thorpe was in one sense a victim of the vicious anti-homosexual atmosphere of his era, forced to hide his sexual orientation beneath a smokescreen of respectability including a sham marriage.

In more enlightened times, the dashing Liberal leader might have risen even higher up the ladder of British politics. But his downfall was not so much his sexuality as his ruthless political ambition. It drove him to extraordinary lengths to remove anything and everything that stood in his upward path to power.

The book on which the three-part drama is based is, I’m told, a fascinating slice of political and social history, as well as a gripping story of prejudice, lies, and perjury. But perhaps the most illuminating aspect of the whole saga was the extent of the cover-up mounted by the UK establishment to protect one of its own.

Thorpe was a privileged old Etonian with an extensive network of friends in the highest places, from the royal family, to the judiciary, the police, the intelligence and the media. Those who used their power to protect the reputation of this pillar of upper-class society – and simultaneously destroy the reputation of a mere stable boy, Thorpe’s former lover Norman Scott – included the BBC. In 1979, the state broadcasting company ordered the destruction of a tape of a Panorama documentary about Thorpe by Tom Mangold. The latter kept a secret copy in a drawer at home and it is now about to be shown for the first time.

These days, whenever anyone suggests the BBC might be biased, whether against the independence movement in Scotland, or striking trade unionists, or Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Left, they are invariably accused of being an irrational conspiracy theorist too stupid to understand that the BBC is and always has been a paragon of impartiality.

Those of us who remember our state broadcaster’s coverage of the 1984 miners’ strike, the Falklands War, the defiance of Liverpool City Council when it took a stand against spending cuts imposed by Thatcher government, or the inner-city riots in England in the 1980s, or the bombing of Afghanistan know that this has always been a myth. And many on the Yes side in the 2014 referendum were understandably infuriated by the relentlessly negative coverage of the Yes side in the weeks and months leading up to the vote. When it comes to the mainstream print media in Scotland, there is a justifiable sense that the playing field is about as level as the north face of Ben Nevis. While political parties are rightly constrained in how much they can spend in elections and referendums, daily newspapers can, with impunity, churn out millions of pounds of worth of political advertising during a campaign without having to account for a single penny.

But what do we do about it? For some in the independence movement, the entire mainstream media – with the possible exception of The National – is an enemy to be defeated via the power of social networks. Over the past week, even the editor of the pro-independence Sunday Herald has been condemned in the most vitriolic language for defending the principle of pluralism, while stressing that independence is one of its core values.

The fury that greeted that statement undoubtedly reflects the frustration that many activists feel at the imbalance in the Scottish media in favour of Unionism, which in no way reflects the near 50-50 divide among the population.

In that context, many people are demanding that those few elements of the media that are pro-independence should be as partisan as for example the Daily Mail, the Daily Express or The Daily Telegraph. I get that, but I disagree.

How many people did the Daily Mail persuade during the last referendum to switch from Yes to No? How many people pick up a copy of the Daily Express in the hairdressers and find themselves converted to Unionism? How many left-wing SNP voters are converted to Toryism after reading The Telegraph? I’ll tell you what I think is the answer … nothing. Relentless propaganda might be popular among dedicated disciples, but that’s as far as it goes. We need to have faith and confidence in our ideas. If the Sunday Herald – or for that matter The National – gives space to voices that are sceptical or opposed to independence, I wouldn’t lose sleep or get wound up over it.

As Victor Hugo, the author of Les Miserables, once said: “Nothing can withstand the strength of an idea whose time has come.” The state-controlled media did not stop apartheid being overthrown in South Africa. Nor did Pravda prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Yes, the mainstream media are biased. That’s nothing new. In common with all established structures of society, it is imbued with the values, inequality and power imbalances of the world we live in. Historically, across Britain, it has always been biased against the left. People like me who come from a trade union and socialist background take it as read that the press is one of the pillars of the status quo.

But even as a Scottish Socialist MSP, whose views were at the opposite pole of those who own and control the mass media, I and my colleagues spoke to journalists, put forward our ideas and utilised every opportunity to get our points across.

In an ideal world, we’d have a truly free and open press, but that’s not going to happen in the foreseeable future. In the meantime, I would argue that the broad independence movement has to get across our arguments in a clear, friendly factual, positive way, using every available channel from social media to TV, radio and the mainstream press both locally and nationally.

If we are able to inject a bit of humour into the debate, that would be far more effective than relentless, righteous anger. Most of all, let’s show all of Scotland we have nothing to fear from debate and dialogue with those who may not share our views. If our ideas are strong, true and presented in a positive and inspiring way, they will win through.